The Sassari team together with volunteers

The voice of our Sassari team

At the end of March 2020, the EFRJ Board and Secretariat, in close cooperation with the Team delle Pratiche di Giustizia Riparativa from Sassari University, decided to postpone the 11th EFRJ conference (due on 25-27 June 2020) to the end of June 2021. This difficult decision was taken due to the current coronavirus emergency which affects all countries in the world. This interview has been written to give full credit to the work done until now for the organisation of another unique EFRJ conference and give you all the chance in 2021 to get to know the Team and the great work they do in Sardinia. Until then… get to know these committed group of EFRJ members from Sassari University (Patrizia Patrizi, Gian Luigi Lepri, Ernesto Lodi, Maria Luisa Scarpa) and the backstage of the organisation of our 11th conference!

Ernesto, tell us: who is the Team delle Pratiche di Giustizia Riparativa of Sassari University?

We are the research group of restorative justice and social psychology of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Sassari coordinated by Prof. Patrizia Patrizi, board member of the European Forum for Restorative Justice. In 2014, this research group created the Team delle pratiche di giustizia riparativa (team of restorative justice practices) with a project to establish a restorative city in Tempio Pausania (Sardinia), the first restorative city in Italy. The Team is composed by legal psychologists, psychotherapists, researchers, honorary judges at the juvenile court, counsellors, and experts in law. In order to promote restorative justice theories and experiences, the research team has been working on a conceptual tool based on a relational, peaceful, responsible and supportive approach, inspired by restorative justice: the Co.Re. model - Community of Restorative Relations. For almost two years, we have been active in the organisation of the 11th international conference of EFRJ (Sassari, 25-27 June 2020), which will now be postponed to the end of June 2021. 

Together with the EFRJ team, we co-created the conference theme "Justice beyond borders: Restoring connections through space and language": how do you relate to these topics?

Our Team immediately felt the importance of this theme as it connects to Sassari and Sardinia. We live in an island in the Mediterranean Sea which has always not only been a location of encounters, but also of suffering, injustices, hate and conflicts caused by linguistic, natural, social and political borders. We find “borders” an actual challenge for all the scholars and professionals involved in restorative justice and the theme was also linked to the 20th anniversary of the EFRJ, which marks the passing of time and the overcoming of obstacles in the field. The choice of the image of the conference was also very significant for us: it represents the work of the Sardinian artist Maria Lai (known internationally for her participatory relational artwork Legarsi alla Montagna, a projects with a highly restorative meaning). 

"La leggenda del naufrago" by Maria Lai

Luisella, you are the one who proposed an artwork by Maria Lai for the poster of our conference

Choosing a Sardinian artist for the image of the EFRJ conference 2020 was one of the first challenges of our Team. Maria Lai’s work is inspired by her research into and use of humble materials, recycled or taken from the Sardinian tradition. Just as the artist's life and research have been dedicated to the desire to connect distant elements together and to find a possibility of relationship between the inner self and the external world, some of her works, such as the “Telai” (looms, frames), are a metaphor for a "thread" to sew, mend and repair the sense of things: a basic scheme on which infinite variations can be worked out. 

The work of relational art "Legarsi alla montagna” (tying/ binding to the mountain) raised questions about the sense of community and social relations: through a code created by the artist, the inhabitants of the community could express and spatially visualise the relationships between them. The artist gave these instructions to the inhabitants: if there was resentment the thread passed straight between the doors or gates of two houses; if there was serenity and friendship a knot was made in the thread; if there was love a bread was hung. By participating in the work, people took on a public responsibility, overcoming old fights between families, all together to achieve a single goal and get rid of the destructive part of themselves to open up to solidarity and meeting.

Also in the printing "La leggenda del naufrago” (the legend of the castaway), which we used for the poster invitation to the conference, the poem in the tree branches reflects restorative justice: suffering can be accepted through listening, the wonder of silence and the welcome of pain, and only those who created the fracture and harm can find and perform the true remedial act for restoration to happen. The strong Sardinian wind carves the foliage and branches of our olive trees "against the wind" as in the image that we wanted to represent us in the world.

Luisella, you are the only “authentic Sardinian” in the Team: how would you describe Sardinia and its inhabitants to our international community?

Sardinian people are known for having been always colonised and dominated and also for having always resisted. This "resilience" created the strong Sardinian identity which is expressed in the peculiar individuality of the island both geographically, historically, culturally and finally socio-environmentally. Insularity is certainly one of the causes of alterity, but even more significant are the historical and cultural causes that underpin a diversity that has long been considered negative. In the collective imagination, Sardinia has in fact always been considered an unpopulated and barren island, marked by archaic, primitive, sometimes violent customs, a land from which to flee and where people would get confined as a form of punishment. For the Sardinians it was not easy to live with this image, which was certainly a stigma. But what makes Sardinia even better is that this otherness, even radical, is also expressed in the different areas of the island, creating islands in the island, and different Sardinian identities. This characteristic is expressed in the various singular local traditions, such as traditional singing or popular music, in traditional popular clothing or finally in the craftsmanship of individual countries. And since identity is also associated with language, this in Sardinia is expressed in a linguistic plurality that is considered a cultural identity heritage, the "limba". Sardinian craftsmanship has also characteristics that make it unique and inimitable, thanks to its particular decorative motifs, such as a code that originates a symbolic language linked to aspects of sacredness.

Gian Luigi, how did the Team develop Tempio Pausania Restorative City in Sardinia?

We had a dream, the dream of a new way of dealing with conflict. We met the EFRJ in Bilbao in 2010, where we had an inspiring encounter with the City of Hull and we fell in love with the idea of a Restorative City. Since then, our academic, professional and research life changed. We felt too tight in the “old” theoretical framework; we knew we were “restorative” and we finally defined ourselves under the Co.Re. model (community of restorative relations). Restorative City was the answer. Restorative community was the vision: how to be restorative in a community that doesn’t talk the same language?

Starting from these reflections, our Team generated a series of projects around these main themes: a) to heal relationships by bringing contexts and systems closer together b) to intervene by encouraging reciprocity interests in those contexts and systems c) to intercept critical issues in order to use them as a start of the process. In Tempio Pausania, a community of about 14.000 inhabitants in the north of Sardinia, it all started with a conflict within the community because a new prison was built for inmates with life sentences due to mafia crimes. The citizens of Tempio immediately feared the prisoners of possible mafia infiltration in their local community, whereas the prisoners were worried about the great distance from their families. So, in agreement with the direction of the prison and the municipality, we started our pilot project: Study and analysis of restorative practices for creating a model of restorative community. The aim of the action research is to examine restorative practices which can involve the whole community: schools, families, police, courts, municipalities, associations, based on the model of the English restorative cities of Hull and Leeds. 

Seminars and workshops involving the community and professionals (e.g. journalists, lawyers) were organised as they were thought to be good practices to raise awareness and to disseminate the principles of restorative justice and its practices. Since restorative justice has the immediate potential to combine the needs of rehabilitation and social security through community involvement and conflict management, we tried to build in Tempio an opportunity to establish a cultural change: trying to involve the community to create a restorative city; involving the schools, social services, NGO, police, church and commercial activities in adopting a model of restorative justice to give back to community the ability to manage and resolve conflicts and to live the everyday life in a more peaceful way. We tried to develop a sense of community, an important part of our restorative practices that involves a sense of emotional connection and security through significant ties with people and place. 

In June 2020, Tempio was ready to welcome the EFRJ community in prison, in the schools, in the streets, in its shops. The field trips organised there will be a great opportunity for the international community to get to know Tempio, and for Tempio’s inhabitants to be proud of the restorative and relational environment they created. Also, several adolescents of Tempio, students in different high schools of the city, are also engaged with the conference preparation in Sassari, showing the active participation and commitment of this Restorative City to meet the EFRJ community.

Hall of the Conservatorium in Sassari

Ernesto, how did the Team prepare to host the EFRJ conference?

At the practical level, the first steps taken were to identify the venue for the EFRJ conference. Sassari has a small university that does not have an auditorium for about 350-400 people, that’s why we signed an agreement with the music conservatory “Luigi Canepa“. There we can use the concert hall "Sala Sassu", 13 classrooms for parallel workshop sessions and the cluster for the breaks. The Board of the conservatory fully supports the values of restorative justice and immediately grasped the meaning of our event. The venue is quite special as you can listen to musicians playing while walking around the conservatory. 

We also contacted various institutions that showed interest to give patronage to the event, such as for example: the President of the Republic, the Minister of Justice, the Sardinia Region, the Municipalities of Sassari and Tempio Pausania. About ten NGOs have been prepared to support the event and various requests of sponsorship were sent to commercial partners for the search for funds. Just to give an example: the wine of our opening reception is offered by a local wine cellar, the water is given by a well-known Sardinian water company, the white notebooks are a gift by a bookshop in Sassari, and a B&B in Alghero offered free rooms for participants in need! The conference bags are the collective work of the restorative justice team in Nuoro: prisoners and their families, students and other volunteers received a piece of textile and are currently sewing our 350 bags, while printing will be done by a social cooperative working with people with disabilities. These are just few examples of how this conference is the result of everyone’s work and contribution, as an entire community supports it in different ways. This is also possible because Sassari is a small city (around 100.000 inhabitants) and everyone felt involved to welcome the EFRJ community.

Volunteer in Nuoro sews our conference bags

What’s unique about the EFRJ conference in Sassari?

The conference in Sassari can be considered unique because of the joint effort made by an entire community as we have involved volunteers from different areas of Sardinia (Sassari, Tempio Pausania, Alghero and Nuoro) to organize this event: students from different high schools, university students, artists, activists, priests and nuns, mayors, winemakers, radio presenters, filmmakers, professors from other faculties, librarians, bar owners, musicians, touristic guides.

Thanks to this active participation, we are able to include in the conference programme 7 different thematic field trips (3 in Sassari and 1 in Alghero, Nuoro, Nuchis and Tempio Pausania). Also, numerous activities planned in the city of Sassari during the 3 day conference involve prisoners, students, teachers, artists, religious people, activists and citizens. For example, students from an artistic high school will decorate the city with flags containing the values of restorative justice, and a local amateur theatre group will perform the story of Sassari in one of the field trips. Many of these social events in the city are possible thanks to the support of the culture department of municipality of Sassari. Also, we can count on about 20 university students in social work (who attended the course on restorative justice taught by Prof. Patrizi) as volunteers for the conference.

Patrizia, how do you experience “the making of” the 11th EFRJ conference?

The sense of doing things together, of mutual support, of the responsibility of each party for the achievement of a shared goal characterised every moment of the organisational process, with a surprising progressive inclusiveness. For our Team, the responses and proposals of the different communities in Sardinia have been a source of energy and courage to face the beautiful challenge of the conference’s organisation. With the Board and the Secretariat of the EFRJ we shared every step and every decision, to make of this conference a special place for encounters of different cultures and languages, as proposed by the conference themes.

Then COVID-19 came, with tensions in Italy and in the world. In consultation with the EFRJ team, we decided to keep an active and positive vision together with a healthy realism, constantly monitoring the indications related to the containment of the pandemic. We talked a lot and it was not easy to make a decision: to continue as planned or to postpone to safer times? Our thoughts went to the active local groups, to the supporting institutions and associations, to the different services involved, to the sponsors, to the speakers, to the workshop presenters, and to the desire of everyone to meet face-to-face soon in Sassari to experience new restorative connections. We wanted everyone to experience the EFRJ conference in Sassari and to connect with others without any risks for our community and for the local team. These two years of preparations have allowed us to create new networks, to strengthen active relationships, to bring people and their communities even closer to the values ​​of restorative justice and the mission of the EFRJ and we do look forward to showing you all this in 2021. 

Hall in Sassari

Dear Team, your final words for our international EFRJ community are…

The 11th EFRJ conference cannot be held in June 2020, but we cannot miss the opportunity to introduce you to Sassari, Sardinia, our local restorative projects (Nuchis, Tempio Pausania, Nuoro), our partners and supporters desiring to actively take part in the event organisation, and to bring the EFRJ community to this special land. Force majeure forced us to cancel the event this year, but we (the Team) are waiting for all of you in June 2021, in a splendid atmosphere and, we hope, in the full recovery of our “socialisation beyond barriers”, as currently we are asked for physical isolation to fight the enemy. After the "Stay Home" imperative, probably the desire to be together will be even stronger.

In the meanwhile, we wish you all to be creative and go “beyond borders” in stimulating our restorative imagination (maybe the conference programme next year will include also this experience). Now and after the coronavirus emergency, Italy, Europe and all the world will need a lot of efforts to restore the harm provoked by the situation. Probably we are all already wondering: How to strengthen universal values ​​of solidarity, inclusion, responsibility, human dignity in this period of self-isolation? How can restorative justice values ​​be used to give a voice to victims of such disasters? How to rebuild community after such silent war provoked by this unknown enemy? Connecting people to restore just relations, also, and particularly, in this moment.

Team delle Pratiche di Giustizia Riparativa

Published on 3 April 2020.